NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Was Thibodeau enough of a politician?; Clashes with management led to his dismissal— Five seasons, 255 regular-season wins, 23 playoff wins (including an East finals berth) and countless other player-level accolades (developing an MVP, a Defensive Player of the Year and a Most Improved Player) weren’t enough to give Tom Thibodeau job security in Chicago. The Bulls fired Thibodeau yesterday in a not-too-shocking move given the unrest between him and the front office and now, must find his replacement. Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski and our own Steve Aschburner chime in on the move with two different viewpoints.
Here’s Wojnarowski on how Thibodeau’s lack of political glad-handing may have led to his firing:
For all the issues that inspired Chicago Bulls management to carry out such a ferocious campaign to discredit Tom Thibodeau – minutes restrictions and personnel disagreements and an inability to simply interact – perhaps the most powerful had been jealousy.
Over and over, those listening to John Paxson and Gar Forman would tell you that Bulls management could never make peace with the praise heaped upon Thibodeau for 60-victory seasons and deep playoff runs. For them, it was too much about the best defense in the NBA, too much about his development of journeymen into rotation contributors, good players into All-Stars, great players into an MVP.
To them, Thibodeau represented a Chicago folk hero who needed to be leveled. Tell them that he was a great coach, and league officials say you’d often hear back from Bulls management that simply, “He’s good.”
If Thibodeau had only the political savvy to publicly praise his bosses, maybe everyone could’ve been spared the years of needless acrimony and drama. As Thibodeau joined the Chicago Bulls five years ago, a coaching friend told him: “Remember to kiss some babies,” a suggestion that he needed to learn to be more of a politician.
Thibodeau played a part in creating the dysfunction. In his next job, he needs to bring with him some lessons learned, needs to understand better that there can be compromises without destroying your values system.
In the end, management won over owner Jerry Reinsdorf to pay out the $9 million owed on Thibodeau’s contract. Reinsdorf has lorded over decades of management-coaching dysfunction – and yet Thursday he was issuing a statement on the firing of Thibodeau as a way to stay true to the organization’s “culture.” That’s been a screwed-up culture for a long, long time. Between Michael Jordan and Derrick Rose, the Bulls were a mess. When Thibodeau arrived, so did the winning – and then, so did the loathing between management and his staff.
Those close to Thibodeau say that Reinsdorf’s statement stung the coach on Thursday, that he had treasured his relationship with the owner. Thibodeau has always admired Reinsdorf’s accomplishments – a self-made tycoon, a successful sports and media mogul – and always felt that Reinsdorf had been an ally for him. Reinsdorf wasn’t around much, though, and talked far more with management than the coach. Thibodeau lost Reinsdorf in the past year, and ultimately lost the job.
Before the end of Thursday night, Thibodeau had sounded enthusiastic to close associates. He was thinking about the next job, about the possibilities out there. Throughout the day, Thibodeau was getting texts and calls from old players – with the Knicks and Rockets and Celtics and, yes, Bulls – and they say that it moved him.
In the hours after his firing, Tom Thibodeau hadn’t sounded angry to his friends – only nostalgic. Five years is a good run in the NBA; it’s just a matter of time until someone else comes calling for him.
And here’s Aschburner on how Thibodeau’s firing may have come as a result of the years-long feud between he and the front office:
Paxson and Forman spoke with assembled Chicago media for about 25 minutes Thursday afternoon at United Center, by which time Thibodeau had been told his services no longer needed and departed the Advocate Center practice facility across the street. He leaves with two years remaining on his contract, worth a reported $9 million, and the freedom to take a new NBA job (New Orleans remains the source of greatest speculation) or sit out to collect the Bulls’ money, whichever suits him. Paxson and Forman said the Bulls weren’t dragging their heels on Thibodeau’s firing to block him until available coaching vacancies were filled — that makes sense, since whatever he’d earn in 2015-16 would offset what they’d still owe him.
But the way it all was handled — Reinsdorf’s salvos lobbed at the coach in support of his guys in suits, the Bulls’ brain trust being far more available and talkative on Thibodeau’s fate after it had been sealed than while it was salvageable, an apparent Cold War in addressing their communication breakdowns and a sense that egos ruled the day more than the good sense to make things work among proven professionals — fit a little too comfortably into the franchise’s history. Or its vaunted “culture” that got mentioned time and time again Thursday.
Remember former Jerry Krause‘s notorious comment that “organizations win championships?” And the bad blood between Krause and coach Phil Jackson, and Krause and stars Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen? This was that, the same mood, just different principals.
One NBA head coach referred to Friday’s events in Chicago as “a crucifixion.” Another spoke of “the knife Reinsdorf stabbed in Thibodeau’s back” on the way out.
Among the things Thibodeau did in his time with Chicago was help Rose become the league’s youngest MVP, turned Luol Deng into a two-time All-Star, drill Noah into the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year and a fourth-place finisher in MVP balloting in 2014 and oversee Jimmy Butler‘s development as this season’s Most Improved Player. He got veteran Pau Gasol to perform at a level that made him an All-Star starter for the first time.
Of course, NBA players are survivors, so it’s not surprising that some of them reportedly weren’t happy with Thibodeau, his grinding work demands and what some of them felt was a limited offensive repertoire. Some were said to have complained in exit interviews with Forman and Paxson, and they didn’t exactly throw themselves in front of the divorce train when asked about the “noise” in March and April.
So who might the Bulls’ new boss be? Forman and Paxson made it sound like they were only now about to rev up a full-blown coaching search, which is hard to believe. Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg, a Forman crony from way back who spent part of his NBA career in Chicago, has been the No. 1 candidate — at least in speculation –since before the season began. The idea that the Bulls would make this leap of cutting loose Thibodeau without having their parachute strapped on, or at least within reach, strains credulity.
Hoiberg is a bright basketball mind, a solid individual and, aside from a health record that required a second open-heart procedure recently, certainly capable of the Xs & Os required in the job. Certainly, he is communicative enough — and clued in enough now — to stroke Bulls upper management in the ways it apparently needs.